The following is a near‑verbatim transcript of today’s noon briefing by Stéphane Dujarric, Spokesman for the Secretary‑General.
Happy Monday, I guess. As a reminder, tomorrow the Secretary‑General will be speaking to the General Assembly in an informal meeting on his outlook on 2018.
As mentioned to you earlier, he will then hold a press conference in this very room. We expect that to start around 12:45 p.m., but do give us a bit of leeway. Since the boss will be speaking tomorrow, we will not be briefing at noon.
**Senior Personnel Appointment
A senior personnel appointment: today, the Secretary‑General is appointing Bience Gawanas of Namibia as his new Special Adviser on Africa. She will succeed Maged Abdelaziz of Egypt, to whom the Secretary‑General is grateful for his commitment and dedicated service to the United Nations. The Secretary‑General also wishes to extend his appreciation to Mr. David Mehdi Hamam, who served as Acting Special Adviser since Mr. Abdelaziz’s departure.
Ms. Gawanas is currently Special Adviser to the Minister of Poverty Eradication and Social Welfare in Namibia. Prior to this, she was Special Adviser to the Minister of Health and Social Services. A champion of women’s health and rights in Africa, she has been commended for her role in initiating far‑reaching campaigns such as the continental Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa (CARMMA).
As you know, the Secretary‑General was in Colombia over the weekend. He is now back in New York and we expect him back in the office shortly.
In a press conference concluding his visit yesterday, he expressed his concern regarding the ELN (National Liberation Army) and the violent events of recent days, and the possibility of escalation of clashes, which would dangerously undermine the political process and the situation of communities in the conflict‑affected areas. In this context, he called for a cessation of all armed actions and for a re-initiation of a serious and constructive dialogue, with a view to meeting as soon as possible the parties’ commitment to reaching a settlement of their differences by political means. He instructed his Special Adviser, Jean Arnault, to take all the necessary actions to facilitate the parties’ return to the negotiating table.
While there, he also held an extensive meeting with President Juan Manuel Santos [Calderón] and key members of his Government, during which he reiterated the solidarity and commitment of the UN alongside Colombia in building peace in the country. He also stressed the need for State institutions and public services to be deployed all over Colombia, for the benefit of all the people in the country. On Sunday, he visited an area for training and reintegration for the FARC (People’s Alternative Revolutionary Force) in Mesetas, in the Department of Meta, as well as local communities and a demining project in the area. While in Colombia, he also met with FARC and Catholic Church leaders, civil society representatives and victims of the conflict, as well as with the President of the Truth Commission, Francisco de Roux.
In all these meetings, he said, nobody thought that armed conflict could be a solution to the problems of Colombia: this was a precious indication for the work the United Nations is doing in supporting the building of a Colombia in peace. All those transcripts were shared with you over the weekend.
Turning to Afghanistan, our humanitarian colleagues tell us that $430 million is needed this year to help 2.8 million people in need. According to the Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA), the money will be used to assist people displaced by conflict or natural disasters with emergency shelter and food, treat patients injured by conflict, feed malnourished children and assist vulnerable families returning home after years in Iran or Pakistan.
And over the weekend, members of the Security Council visited the country. This was the first Council visit to Afghanistan since 2010. Colleagues at the UN Mission on the ground tell us that Council members got a first‑hand account of progress made by the Afghan National Unity Government, with the assistance of the international community, in addressing a wide range of interconnected challenges. They also learned of ways they could further assist the efforts on the ground. More details are available on UNAMA’s (United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan) website.
Our humanitarian colleagues today tell us they are concerned over the hostilities mainly targeting east Harasta, Misraba, Modira and Duma in the besieged eastern Ghouta area of Syria. This is resulting in civilian deaths and injuries and impacting many of the nearly 400,000 people trapped inside the area. In addition to death and injury, shelling reportedly resulted in restricted movement between towns, the suspension of school exams and limited access to local markets. At the same time, mortar attacks continued to be reported in eastern neighbourhoods in Damascus, causing injuries among civilians and material damages. The UN reminds all parties of their responsibilities to protect civilians and continues to call for safe, unimpeded and sustained access to all people in need, including the millions of people who live in hard‑to‑reach and besieged areas.
From Yemen, we can finally report that today a ship carrying four mobile cranes purchased by the World Food Programme (WFP) and funded by the United States Agency for International Development has arrived in Yemen’s Hodeidah Port. This will allow for faster delivery of relief items for Yemeni families in the grips of the world’s biggest hunger crisis. The cranes, which will be operational immediately, are urgently needed to boost the capacity of Hodeidah Port, which handles about 70 per cent of Yemen’s imports, including critically needed food and humanitarian supplies. With each of the mobile cranes able to handle up to 60 tons, they will significantly boost the discharge of humanitarian cargo and relief items. WFP Executive Director David Beasley said that while the cranes will increase the port’s capacity, more work is needed. “To avert even greater catastrophe, WFP needs better access and smooth, timely clearance of shipments.”
From Libya, we are told that fighting broke out this morning in Tripoli’s Tajoura area. There have been multiple reports of casualties; however, the number of casualties is not confirmed at this stage. Some families are thought to be trapped by the fighting. Humanitarian workers are monitoring the situation. The UN reminds all parties of their obligation under international humanitarian law to take constant care to spare civilians and civilian structures. This includes taking all feasible precautions against the effects of attacks to avoid and minimize incidental civilian harm.
**Central African Republic
From the Central African Republic, our humanitarian colleagues there tell us that some 100,000 people are in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Paoua town, including some 60,000 displaced people and 40,000 inhabitants to the town. OCHA’s head of office led an assessment mission to the area a few days ago along with authorities from the Central African Republic. Health concerns are increasing amid reports that dead bodies have been dumped in wells or are lying around in villages, heightening the risk of contamination. Most of the displaced are women and children, raising specific protection concerns. Several cases of gender‑based violence have been reported. More information available online.
For those of you who like facts and were excited about what happened in 2017, I wanted to flag that our colleagues in the Security Council branch of DPA (Department of Political Affairs) have published the 2017 highlights of Security Council practices. It’s now available on the web, as well as in hard copies. As in previous years, it provides an annual overview of Security Council activities, with statistical information on the evolving practices of the Council relating to meetings, agenda, decisions and voting patterns, as well as subsidiary bodies, including sanctions. The 2017 edition contains additional information relating to representatives of members of the Council, briefers and presidential texts. It actually has some cool graphics and things like that. I would encourage you take a look at it.
Speaking of facts and numbers, the first International Forum on Migration Statistics began today [in Paris]. The Forum is organized jointly by the UN Migration Agency (IOM), the UN Department of Economic and Social Affairs (UNDESA), and the Organization for Economic Co‑operation and Development (OECD), and it will gather close to 700 statisticians, researchers, policymakers and representatives from civil society. Participants will discuss how to improve existing data collection to better understand global migration trends, drivers and impacts, and support policy evaluation. More information on the IOM website.
For those of you who were on vacation or enjoy being a tourist, you will know that our colleagues at the UN World Tourism Organization today said that international tourist arrivals in 2017 grew by 7 per cent, for a total of 1.3 billion tourists. This is the highest annual growth rate in seven years. The agency said this was mostly due to the global economic upswing, and added that it expects growth to continue in 2018, though at a more sustainable pace of around 4 per cent. Europe and Africa had the highest growth rates at 8 per cent, followed by Asia and the Pacific with a 6 per cent growth. But we’re gathered in this room not as tourists, we’re working, so I’ll answer your questions. Madame?
**Questions and Answers
Question: Stéphane, just on Hodeidah, can you tell us what the latest is on access? The reason being, obviously, it’s… it’s good to have cranes, but will they actually be offloading much?
Spokesman: Yes, there’ll be… I think we had an update last week on the number of ships, but obviously, this is to offload, obviously, humanitarian cargo, which is sent by the UN and also, very importantly, the commercial cargo that is cleared to arrive in… in Hodeidah. The problem that we’d had is that the facilities in the port did not enable us to offload and to absorb a greater capacity of ships. So, I’ll get you the updated number of ships, but it’s obviously a very important development, and we’ve been waiting and, more importantly, the people of Yemen have been waiting for the arrival of these cranes for some time. Olga and then Matthew.
Question: Thanks, Stéphane. The question about the meeting in Vancouver about DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea), if UN is participating or not?
Spokesman: I’m not aware of any UN participation. I will double‑check, but as far as I know, there is no UN representative there.
Question: So, if there is no UN representative, is it the decision to… not to go to Vancouver…?
Spokesman: I’ll check. I… you know, first I heard of it was reading in the press this morning. I will double‑check. I may stand corrected, but I do not believe this involves the United Nations. Okay. Mr. Lee?
Question: … ask about Yemen and the Philippines. In Yemen, I guess there… it’s a day of rare good news. This well‑known commentator and analyst Hisham al‑Omeisy was released, and I [know] you’d been asked about this in August. The Houthis released him. And I wanted to know, has… did the UN play any role? Do you have any comment on that?
Spokesman: You know, obviously, if that’s the case, we welcome his… his release.
Question: The other is this island of Yemen called Socotra Island. It’s a UNESCO (United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization) [World Heritage site]… so, basically, the UAE (United Arab Emirates) has been building bases there, and there’s… they’ve sort of… they claim they were leased it by [Yemeni] President Hadi [Mansour], and there’s now a militarization of it. I wanted to know, since it seems to be something that’s uniting various sides in Yemen as kind of a breach of sovereignty, is the UN aware of that? Is the envoy… has he ever done anything about the Socotra Island situation?
Spokesman: I will check.
Question: And, in the Philippines, the… the investigative online publication the Rappler has had its licence revoked by the Duterte Government today. And it’s a… it’s a well‑known…
Spokesman: Listen, we stand…
Question: … political media…
Spokesman: … as a matter of principle, for freedom of the press and of free media. Edie?
Question: Stéph, does the Secretary‑General have any comment on reports that the United States is planning to dramatically cut the budget for UNRWA (United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East) for Palestinian refugees?
Spokesman: You know, we’ve… we haven’t been advised of anything officially. We’re obviously aware and we’ve seen the press reports. I think it’s… it’s very important to understand a few things. One, UNRWA’s mandate is given to it by the General Assembly to support humanitarian human development work. UNRWA serves, I think, some of the most marginalized population in the Middle East. And I think its presence through its activities and its presence through health, education, and humanitarian help is a force for stabilization in a very volatile… a very volatile area.
Question: Can I follow up?
Question: It’s just… just to follow up, it looks like it’s going to be 60 million that’s going to be cut instead of 125. Is that a gap, for instance, that other countries could cover?
Spokesman: I keep in my head what the Secretary‑General tells me to say, which is never to comment on things that have not happened. So, our position on UNRWA, I’ve just stated. We’ll obviously wait to see what the actual number is. The United States is a major funder of UNRWA. We’ve always appreciated its… its contributions. The fact is that UNRWA’s work will… is critical, and if any donor severely cuts its contributions, we will have to find other… other sources. Sir?
Question: Hi, Stéph. What is the UN’s position on Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas’ statement on Sunday that he would only accept a broad international panel to broker any peace deal, basically undercutting the US’s role as… as chief mediator?
Spokesman: Look, I have no particular comment on… on what President Abbas said except to say that, for us, what is critical is that there be negotiations between the parties leading to a… to a two‑State solution based on all relevant Security Council resolutions. Yes, sir?
Question: [Inaudible] TV Greece. Stéphane, there will be a new round of negotiation for the name issue of FYROM (the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia) next Wednesday. How does Secretary‑General comment this round? And what does he expect of the discussions? Thank you.
Spokesman: Look, these are discussions that have been going on for quite a long time. They’re very delicate discussions as we know. I don’t want to prejudge the outcome. We, obviously, welcome the fact that the parties will be meeting with Mr. [Matthew] Nimetz, and we’ll keep you updated on the outcome.
Question: Can I follow up on that?
Spokesman: You can try.
Question: I’m just wondering if you… if you think you’re… can you qualify if you think there could be a breakthrough on the name? And do you have any ideas about what the name could be?
Spokesman: Nice try. No. [Laughter] And, you know, here we deal with a lot of issues that have been on our agenda for a long time, so let’s wait… it’s always good when people talk. Let’s wait to see what happens. Olga and then Matthew.
Question: Another question on the Middle East. There was a statement from Russian Minister for Foreign Affairs. He said that he expects that the Middle East Quartet might meet very soon. Any indications from the UN that such meeting can take place and when?
Spokesman: We’ve checked. We’ll try to get back to you if we have an update. Mr. Lee?
Question: Sure. I want to… to ask you again about the… this now 10‑day disappearance of southern Cameroonian leaders in Nigeria. You know, each time you’ve said you’re unaware of it. It’s getting more and more coverage. It seems to be a regional issue. And I noticed that… that the Deputy Secretary‑General… now it says she’s on leave. She was there for a week in Nigeria. And I’m just wondering to ask you again, in that week, did she find the time to ask the Nigerian Government…
Spokesman: As I said, if I have anything on this, I will share it with you.
Question: Is Mr. [François Louncény] Fall doing anything? I mean…
Spokesman: As I said, if I have something to share with you, I will.
Question: Okay. And I wanted to ask you also, the magistrates in France have officially today closed the case on the Sangaris sexual abuse matter, saying… there’s a quote where they say the… the statements of the … of the alleged victims were inconsistent; therefore, no one can be held accountable. And I just wondered, given the things… given the UN’s presence in the CAR (Central African Republic), given the [Anders] Kompass matter, does the UN have comment on no one being held accountable whatsoever for that report?
Spokesman: There was a judicial process under way over which we had no… which is led by the national authorities. As always… I mean, and… as always, the prosecution of troops is a national… is a national matter, even more so in this case because the troops that were accused were not operating under the UN flag. It’s difficult for us to comment without having access to… to the files, obviously. I think these issues having to do with sexual abuse, an alleged sexual abuse by… by anyone need to be treated, I think, quickly. So, I think the more time elapses between… between alleged actions and prosecution, the more difficult it is to go through rigorous legal process. For our part, we are focusing on the victims. That’s the Secretary‑General’s clear intent, and we will continue to do so.
Question: And just one other thing. Just on that, the… it seems like one of the issues, even at the time that was raised by… by some critics of how the UN dealt… dealt with a variety of issues in CAR, is the way that… that alleged children victims are interviewed. And I know that this Ms. [Jane Connors]… do you think… I guess… I don’t know. Maybe she doesn’t have a direct comment on this case, but is the UN… is there any move afoot within the UN… because this idea that… that, like, children victims are inconsistent, like, some of that would seem to be natural, but I know that Code Blue and others have said that the way in which victims, even of UN peacekeeping alleged abuses, have been… have been sort of spoken to in the first time…
Spokesman: I think we take great care when interviewing victims to ensure that people are not traumatized a second time. Yes?
Question: [Inaudible] reports on the weekend of the US‑led coalition training of border security force in Syria and the… Turkey reacted quite strongly to that. Do you have any concerns?
Spokesman: No… I have no particular comment on that. Thank you.